Sophie and Pearl, the Maltese companions of Cindy Hogan, have been pet visitors at Yaletown House, a non-profit care facility for seniors with complex care needs in Vancouver, BC, for the last four years. Every Tuesday night, they go to visit the seniors in residence, alleviating loneliness and providing company and unconditional love. Before a visit, the dogs get their hair brushed, their signal that they are going to see the seniors. There’s lots of excitement and a few barks before they pull Hogan over to Yaletown House to visit their friends, rushing in as if to say, “We’re here!” and happily getting straight to work, snuggling and greeting the residents.
Sophie and Pearl were screened to become pet visitor candidates by Pets and Friends, a non-profit society that’s mission is to provide the healing comfort of animals to people who can no longer live independently.
Sophie is a love machine and goes up to every resident, wagging her tail and waving her butt, thrilled to see everyone. Pearl is a bit more reserved but is very content to sit on laps and is often reluctant to leave, putting on the brakes when it’s time to go. While Sophie and Pearl enjoy the visiting, for Hogan the best part of volunteering is “the smiles on the faces of the residents as we make our rounds. The most common comment we hear is ‘You’ve made my day.’”
Pet visitation helps relieve stress, increase optimism, and address the basic human need for positive interaction, physical affection, and acceptance. It also helps residents who have recently lost their independence make the transition to facility living. Pet and Friends’ pet visitation program (petsandfriends.org) touches the lives of more than 15,000 people in over 200 long-term care facilities across BC’s Lower Mainland. In the US, for volunteer opportunities in your area, go to volunteermatch.org and enter your city and “dog.” In Canada, visit getinvolved.ca and search by organization, interest or postal code.